Over the summer, I had the opportunity to visit the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Museum as a guest with low vision. This was exciting for me, because I am a member of the Roosevelt Institute’s campus network at my college and was published in their 10 Ideas Policy Journal in 2018. I am proud to continue Roosevelt’s tradition of creating policy ideas that help people and it was great to be able to visit his home and museum.
I had visited the museum before my vision drastically changed, so I was curious to see if my museum experience would be any different if I was using assistive technology. I’m happy to report that my experience was different in a good way and that having access to assistive technology greatly enriched my experience. In honor of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s 137th birthday, here is my review of touring the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Museum with vision impairment.
What is the FDR Museum?
The FDR Museum is the official presidential library and museum for Franklin Delano Roosevelt (referred to as FDR), who was the 32nd President of the United States and the only president to serve four terms in the Oval Office. The museum campus includes the FDR Museum, FDR Presidential Library, and the home of FDR. The museum and library are managed by the National Archives and his home is managed by the National Parks Service. The FDR Museum is located in Hyde Park, NY.
I used a ridesharing service to get to and from the FDR Museum and had no issues with finding the museum location. Admission to the museum and his home costs $20, and it is free to visit the library. I received a free ticket to the museum for the purpose of researching audio description.
Requesting audio description
There are two options for requesting audio description at the FDR Museum:
Borrow a Tour-Mate device for free
The FDR Museum has free handheld devices that users can check out from the New Deal store in the main museum area. These devices come with headphones and are operated by typing in the exhibit’s numerical code.
Download the free audio description files to your device
If users would prefer to use their own device, audio description files are available for free download in mp3 format from the FDR website or on iTunes. There are two different tours available:
- The base tour that covers the permanent exhibit (about 2 hours long)
- The expanded tour that features descriptions for every exhibit (about 13 hours long, broken into sections)
The FDR Museum is easy to navigate, with several different permanent exhibits on display in the main museum area. It’s easy to get around the different exhibits using mobility aids, which is very fitting given that FDR used mobility aids as well. Exhibits feature many different artifacts, photos, and audiovisual recordings. Visitors are able to interact with several of the exhibits as well.
There are many tactile exhibits in the museum for guests to interact with, but my audio description guide suggested that I check out the tactile statues of FDR and Eleanor Roosevelt in their garden. While I normally don’t like to feel people’s faces, it was interesting to feel the details of the statues and get a better idea of what the president and first lady looked like. There was also a bronze statue inside of their beloved Scottish Terrier, Fala.
Using audio description in exhibits
To use audio description in exhibits at the FDR Museum, type in the corresponding number that is next to the exhibit on the keypad of your device. If you can’t see the number, you can either ask a staff member for help or cross-reference the list of items on the audio tour online. I recommend copy and pasting the list on your phone.
The audio description for each exhibit features a visual description of the artifacts on display, and reads any text that is on display as well. Information is read out in a natural sounding voice without any additional background noise.
Why I didn’t use any other apps
Whenever I go to a museum, I frequently use other assistive technology apps to enhance my experience and help ensure that I understand what’s on display. However, I didn’t use any additional apps while visiting the FDR Museum. This is largely because there was no cell data in the area. I didn’t mind this though, as the audio description did a great job of giving me detailed information about exhibits.
My favorite exhibit on display was FDR’s wheelchair. During his presidency, FDR tried to make his wheelchair and mobility aids as discreet as possible, so it’s interesting to see them up close. Another one of my favorite exhibits was the different Fireside Chats, since I was able to hear his voice.
Visiting the FDR Museum virtually
In addition to the physical museum, the FDR Museum also has a virtual museum on their website. The virtual museum has many interesting items, including high-resolution documents and images, videos, 360 degree images, and topical guides. I recommend pairing it with audio description or a screen reader.
- FDR Library Virtual Tour
- How to Make Historical Documents Accessible
- Accessible Virtual Field Trip- The 9/11 Memorial and Museum
I loved visiting the Franklin Delano Roosevelt museum with low vision. The audio description was amazing and added a lot to my experience that I otherwise would have missed out on. I imagine that FDR would be proud to know his home and museum incorporate assistive technology and are accessible for people with disabilities, and that his legacy lives on today.